Lardo is a type of salume (Italian cured meats) made by curing strips of pork back fat with herbs and spices. The most famous Lardo is said to be from the Tuscan village of Colonnata, a "frazione" (hamlet) of the larger city of Carrara, which is famous for its marble. Colonnata is itself a site where Carrara marble is mined and, traditionally, Lardo is cured for months in basins made of this local marble. Another quality Lardo is the Valle d'Aosta Lard d'Arnad from the area of Arnad in Aosta Valley.
Lardo di Colonnata
Lardo di Colonnata is made using two of Tuscany's most famous products: the white marble from the Alps, and pork, the main type of livestock in the region. Large Marble caves have existed in Tuscany since the Roman Age, especially around the city of Carrara and it's hamlet Colonnata. The marble found in the caves is of excellent quality and is used to make beautiful columns in some of Italy's most famous landmarks. In ancient Roman times while the Romans focused their energy on increasing the amount of marble extracted and building, the Barbarians that ruled the land after the Romans preferred to raise pigs for pork products, including lard. Lardo is produced all over the region but the best Lardo is undoubtedly produced in Colonnata. Colonnata's close proximity to the Alps gives constant mountain wind which in turn gives Colonnata makes the ideal micro climate for ageing lard.
The pork back fat is placed in marble tubs, or basins, then covered with a mixture of curing salt with a secret blend of herbs and spices and left to cure. Each year the Italian Health Department questions the use of marble as a storage vessel for curing meat, questioning it's suitability for hygienic meat product production but as yet to no avail. The production of Lardo di Colonnata is regulated by IGP standards, which include ageing the meat in marble and as a result as you leave the small, regulated area of production around Colonnata you will find that the quality of the lard declines.
To make Lardo, a trimmed piece of locally produced pork back fat (lard) is placed immediately in marble basins that have been rubbed with garlic. The meat is never refrigerated before curing in a mixture of salt, black pepper, rosemary, and garlic which is placed in between the layers of lard to cure. Some producers also add sage, star anise, oregano, coriander, or even cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg, as with most Italian products the true ingredients of Lardo changes from one maker to another. The curing Lardo is then aged naturally in warm, fresh caves, often from which the marble has be mined. It takes a minimum of 6 months, during which the amount of liquid released by the salt-covered lard is measured regularly. Lardo di Colonnata has been made this way since the beginning. It is an extremely effective curing and ageing practice, practices which have now been protected by the Ark of Taste.
Lardo di Arnad
Throughout history Lardo di Arnad has been made throughout the lower part of the Aosta Valley. The lard used came from domestically raised pigs that were fed chestnuts, grains and vegetables, which in turn gave the pork a certain nutty taste. Nowadays, the pork used for Lardo di Arnad is raised on farms in both the Aosta Valley and it's nearby flatlands. The lard is taken from the shoulder of pigs which should be pink and evenly coloured and has a quadrangular shape and weighs between 5 to 9lbs.
When people first began making lardo, it was preserved and aged in "doils" (chestnut wood containers with special joints that kept the brine from leaking out) but today the meat is generally placed in glass containers for food safety reasons. To make Lardo di Arnad the meat is trimmed and the skin removed before putting it in a glass container with alternating layers of brine. The saltwater brine is made by boiling water with salt and other seasonings such as pepper, rosemary, bay leaves, sage, cloves, cinnamon, juniper and nutmeg. A large weighted cover is then placed on the container and the lardo is then left to age up to a year. Sometimes the lard is to be stored for a longer time by transferring it into sealable jars and covered in local Aosta Valley white wine. The process for making lardo di Arnad is now safeguarded by the Protected Designation of Origin DOP regulations from the European Union.